On the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage I can’t stop thinking about how we should develop a board game like Monopoly called “Privilege” where you have to draw your gender, age, race, class, job, orientation, immigration status, health & family history/connections at random. Each trip around the board is one year. My thoughts so far:
- It takes 10 full rounds before you can ask request a raise.
- There’s no universal income for passing go.
- All the railroad & utility squares are replaced with natural disasters.
- Children & their expenses will be added at random.
- If you don’t speak English, you get half as many turns.
- Women make 79% of their male counterparts’ salaries.
- Student loans accrue massive interest.
- Each round a random player is dealt a debilitating health crisis.
This is an unfinished list, based off privileges I can see; there are many others (especially racial ones) that go over my head. And that is a huge part of why representation in government matters—because we all drew different cards at the start of this life. We all experience the board differently.
Monopoly was invented in 1903 by a woman named Lizzie. She wanted to illustrate problems she saw in the new century stemming from dramatic income inequality and tight-fisted monopolists. She invented the game to teach a lesson. She invented the game before she could even vote, not to indict certain classes of people, but to raise awareness about markets and greed and luck. The fact that a player’s success or bankruptcy depends largely on the roll of the dice is not a coincidental metaphor.
I grew up on a ranch where I made my allowance pounding fence posts. I’m no stranger to hard work, but I also know that no amount of gumption would allow me to vote today if 100 years ago the suffragettes hadn’t said, “It makes no sense that I don’t get to vote just because I randomly drew a ‘woman’ card.”
They were right. It makes no sense—our rights should not be dependent upon the cards randomly assigned to us before we were born. We may have influence over many factors in our lives—we can work hard, make ‘smart’ decisions, stay out of danger (maybe)—but type 1 diabetics born to poor families didn’t choose their bodies just like the sons of millionaires didn’t choose theirs. Insulin might save both of their lives on a daily basis, but what it costs them to get it—to achieve the same playing field in terms of their health—is wildly different.
Likewise, it’s worth remembering that while this week marks the first time white women were able to vote, that particular privilege was not extended to women of color for decades. The exact same right cost these groups more, in time and energy and capitol, for reasons they did not choose. Suffrage for black women and native women was contested just as hotly as that of white women, just like the civil rights movement, desegregation, marginal tax rates, medicare, and medicaid. All were fiercely opposed by people who’d been dealt different hands. People railed. They spat. They told horrendous lies. They said things like, “But that’s not what my cards look like.”
Maybe it’s crazy to think that a board game could help shift our cultural perspective, but then again, I think of all the cabin weekends playing Monopoly with my siblings and what we learned: how railroads aren’t flashy, but they’re a steady investment. How monopolies are achieved largely through the luck of having the cash you need when you land on the square you want, and that these conditions cannot be replicated by sheer force of will. That when you finally achieve massive, unequal wealth it becomes so easy to gobble up the smaller estates around you, evicting tenants, even when your little brother says, “No please, it’s all I have.” And that this is how it then ends: him in tears while you lap the board, staying at your own estates; playing alone.
Lizzie invented a board game. I’m running for office. And as an adult I’m finally understanding how each of these board games played alone is too simplistic—the reality is more like a skeletal framework of shadowed games, one atop another. Monopoly atop the minimum wage freeze atop property taxes atop the fact that the office I’m running for is dominated by men. Each “card” adds a new vector, a new frame for seeing the world, and that’s why I think both Monopoly and my own local government need a reboot. Because we all deserve representation from people who not only understand the particularities of multiple games, but understand how they intersect.